According to the you-have-to-break-eggs-to- make-an-omelet school of thought, as practiced by Israel and applauded by the likes of Irving Kristol, the solution to the Palestine problem is simple. First you crack the PLO wide open, pulverizing Lebanon in passing. Then you somehow herd the hapless, stateless, widely scattered, former Palestinian Arabs in the general direction of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.
What's wrong? A clear majority of its citizens, numbering as many as 1 million, already qualify as Palestinians; why not a million or two or three more? You could begin by attaching the Israeli-occupied West Bank (700,000 Palestinians) to Jordan in some sort of federation--the "Jordanian option."
What's wrong with this is what's wrong with every glib, looks-good-on-paper theory having to do with the brighter prospects for a stable Lebanon and a breakthrough on the Palestinian issue that suposedly await us as a consequence of the Israeli invasion. Like shimmering mirages, they show no sense of how much American muscle will be required--on Arabs and Palestinians, as well as Israel --to get there from here. Still less do they suggest a sense of place or pace: of tough, tiny steps; of evolutionary, not to say generational change.
Let's stipulate the best: that Yasser Arafat and the 5,000 or so PLO guerrillas are winkled out of West Beirut-- with a Franco-American military escort. Starting in Lebanon, what then?
"We have no intention of interfering in the internal affairs of Lebanon," Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon said the other day. "The only Israeli mission is to destroy the terrorist PLO organization. After that we will only be coming here as tourists."
This is deceptively soothing. It suggests that Israel wants only to do Lebanon a kindness, while tending to Israel's immediate security.
But if that is now Israel's maximum objective, you have to ask what the Israeli occupation forces are doing elsewhere while all eyes have been fixed on the tightening ring around West Beirut. From occupied Lebanon, reports multiply of Israeli connivance with Christian militiamen in the south, under the leadership of Israel's bought-and-paid- for Lebanese puppet of long standing, Major Saad Haddad; of Israeli support for Bashir Gemayel, the presidential candidate, as leader of the Christian Phalange operating farther north, in and around east Beirut; of discreet Israeli encouragement to dissident Shi'ite Moslem irregulars.
Playing on Lebanon's age-old affliction-- religious, sectarian, demographic divisions, splits within splinters, factions within factions within factions--the Israelis are using money and arms to consolidate the power of militias and irregular forces whose leaders are deemed most promising as power brokers of a "New Lebanon." A Lebanon, that is, with its Maronite Christian minority holding sway over a deeply riven Moslem majority, swollen by upwards of 400,000 Palestinian refugees. A Lebanon that Israel could live with--now.
But a Lebanon, also, that would be riper than ever over time for the sort of bloody internal upheavals that have twice in the past 25 years shattered central authority and plunged the country into savage civil war.
You can't flatly prove that's Israel's game. But it's interesting that on the same day Sharon was offering his reassurances, Prime Minister Menachem Begin was giving them the lie.
Israel, he said, "will not leave Maj. Haddad in the lurch." Now what does that mean? Begin was quite explicit: "I think (Haddad) should take part in the central government." So Israel is going to help put together a new Lebanese government, by insisting on who should be in and, presumably, who should be out. And the Reagan administration, by its outward silence, signals consent to concerned Lebanese, both Christian and Moslem, to the French, to the Egyptians, to others with a longer view of Lebanon's best interests.
The long view sees a neutral, demilitarized Lebanon, with a multinational peacekeeping force to provide the security now provided by freewheeling militias. "The only way to unite Lebanon is by disarming it," says one Lebanese advocate of this approach.
The catch is that as Israeli proconsuls move in to solidify their influence in the occupied areas by turning more of the security responsibility over to Lebanese surrogates, alternatives are rapidly being shut off. Gemayel, a 33-year-old, opportunistic gunslinger, and his right-wing Maronite followers are eager to collaborate. Power-grabbing, score-settling, religious vengeance--that's been Lebanon's way of life through centuries of exploitation and manipulation by Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Babylonians, the Crusaders, Turks, the French--and now Israel.
The wisdom of the ages suggests it only works by outright conquest. If the Israelis are allowed to play fast and loose with Lebanon's delicate sectarian balance, inevitably Moslem elements will rearm and rise up.
The same may be said if the Israelis can get away with playing fast and loose with the wider Palestinian problem. Here again, there may be new opporunities, but only in the sense, as Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger put it, of "new conditions": a dismembered PLO; a chastened Syria; Israel with its north secure from PLO rocket fire; a Lebanon free of foreign interference in its home-grown miseries. All pluses, which is why at that point Israel and its supporters stop counting.
But the Arabs keep counting. And the "new conditions" they see all work harshly against U.S. interests and/or opportunity: a United States perceived throughout the Arab world as unwilling or unable to restrain the Israeli rampage through Lebanon--with American weapons; a wave of terrorism by the PLO's radicalized remnants directed as much against Arab moderates as against Israel; a rising tide of Arab rage and frustration, expressed in virulent anti-Americanism.
And finally, an Israeli defense minister, Sharon, powerful enough to work his will on Lebanon and thus, presumably, to carry through the rest of a grand design that would fasten Israel's grip ever more tightly on the West Bank-- and squeeze more and more of its Palestinian population across the river into Jordan.
Now that's a Jordanian option. But the United States would have to conspire in the destabilization of a friendly Arab state to a degree that King Hussein and his dynasty could not expect to survive. So we are back to Jordanian federation with the West Bank.
There are at least two hitches. One is that Hussein isn't ready. He was stripped of his claim to the territory at a meeting of the Arab states in 1974-- and took it well, for good reason. In the years that he held it, it was a seething source of opposition from Palestinians; his rule was sustained only by a British-trained army drawn from loyal Bedouin tribes.
The second hitch is that the West Bank isn't ready. Under Sharon's direction, Israeli settlements multiply and thicken. PLO sympathy is repressed; elected municipal leaders are sacked. If this West Bank impasse is to be broken, and if the larger problem of the Palestine refugees is to be resolved, it's no use talking now about a "Jordanian option" somewhere down the road. What's urgently needed is a fresh start at the beginning of the road: renewed negotiations on some variation of Camp David's experiment with "full autonomy" on the West Bank.
In this, the Arab moderates, even the Europeans, can help. But first you need Egypt. President Hosni Mubarak has promising ideas about how to exploit the "new condition" of the PLO by promoting a political Palestinian government-in- exile in Cairo composed of "moderates" prepared for reciprocal recognition and negotiation with Israel. You also need an Israel whose West Bank policy and performance convey a readiness to reciprocate and negotiate.
But for that you need an American administration strong enough to stand up to Israel. Only then can the United States hope to restore the influence it will need on the Arab side--the leverage lost in the smoke and thunder of American- supplied weapons in Lebanon--to make the most of the "new" conditions in the Middle East.